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Iraq: Preparations to Confine Families in Camp

Saturday, July 20, 2019

The beginnings of a gate erected in Jadah 5 camp intended to enclose a section of the camp to prevent free movement. 

© 2019 Belkis Wille/Human Rights Watch

(Erbil) – A local Iraqi organization managing a camp for displaced people is making preparations to unlawfully confine families scheduled to be transferred from northeast Syria, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Jadah 5 camp, 65 kilometers south of Mosul, has forcibly relocated 175 families from one sector of the camp to another in order to make room for the families, mostly women and children. Iraqi authorities have previously arbitrarily detained families perceived to have possible ISIS affiliation.

“Authorities in Iraq are planning to detain returning families arbitrarily, in violation of Iraqi and international law,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Segregating families – mainly women and children – coming from Syria is a step toward stigmatizing and labeling them in the absence of any credible allegation that they have committed a crime.”

Human Rights Watch visited the Jadah 5 camp, estimated to house over 16,000 people on July 16, 2019. Four residents in the sector known as “400,” because of the number of tents, said that camp management told the 175 families there on July 10 that they had to relocate to other camp areas. The rest of the tents in the sector were empty. The families currently living in the camp are generally able to move freely within and outside the camp within its immediate vicinity.

They said the camp head told them they had to move, apparently because they planned to detain the new arrivals. “If you don’t move you will regret it,” two of the residents quoted one camp management official as saying. “It will become like prison and you will need permission to come in and out, you won’t be able to move freely.” He said the families would be brought from al-Hol camp in northeast Syria, which holds Iraqi, Syrian, and foreign families who lived under ISIS in Syria.

Another camp management official told the group that the arriving families “have the same extremist ideology… it is not in your interest to live next to them,” the residents said.

Iraqi authorities said on July 9 that al-Hol families would be relocated to the camp. But the National Security Council, which coordinates Iraq's national security, intelligence, and foreign policy strategy, told aid groups and camp management on July 10 that Jadah 5 would not house the al-Hol families, three aid workers said. They said that authorities have not indicated when these families will be transferred or how long they would be confined in camps before being allowed to move freely.

By the evening of July 11, the families from “400” had all relocated within the camp, with the exception of four or five families who left the camp, residents told Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch visited the section on July 16 and found it empty, with the beginnings of a fence being erected around it. Two other residents said camp management also told families in sector “500,” which holds about 240 families, that they would need to relocate. But the families interviewed refused and threatened to protest and had not been forced to move at the time of the visit, possibly because aid agencies intervened. Both “400” and “500” areas are isolated outcrops of the camp.

Al-Hol camp holds 30,000 Iraqis in northeast Syria, the vast majority of them female-headed households, often including many children. Some fled ISIS when it controlled parts of Iraq, and others lived under ISIS control in Syria until the battle to retake Baghouz, ISIS’s final pocket in Syria in early 2019. Few, if any, have been charged with any crime. Human Rights Watch has not been able to determine the extent to which the families in al-Hol, who aid workers say have signed up to voluntarily return, have done so with informed consent, given that that Iraqi authorities seemingly plan to arbitrarily detain them in camps.

A United Nations plan from early 2019 for the return of Iraqi families from al-Hol, which Human Rights Watch has reviewed, calls on Iraqi authorities to ensure that the families are not sequestered into one specific camp but are instead mixed with existing camp populations. It said this would ensure that the families would not be further stigmatized and marginalized. The plan said that international assistance to these families would depend on compliance with these conditions.

International human rights law prohibits arbitrary detention. Any deprivation of liberty must be according to law that is “accessible, understandable, non-retroactive and applied in a consistent and predictable way” and allows people to seek judicial review of their detention. Any detention that lacks such legal basis is both unlawful and arbitrary.

International human rights law and humanitarian law allow punishment only for people found responsible for crimes after a fair trial to determine individual guilt. Imposing collective punishment on families, villages, or communities violates the laws of war and amounts to a war crime. Under international human rights law and the laws of armed conflict, children may be detained only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period. If children are detained, detaining authorities must fulfill their rights, including to appropriate food and medical care, education and physical exercise, legal assistance, privacy, complaints mechanisms, and contact with their families.

The UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement stipulate that if displacement occurs in situations other than during the emergency stages of a conflict, “Adequate measures shall be taken to guarantee to those to be displaced full information on the reasons and procedures for their displacement and, where applicable, on compensation and relocation… The free and informed consent of those to be displaced shall be sought… The authorities concerned shall endeavour to involve those affected, particularly women, in the planning and management of their relocation… The right to an effective remedy, including the review of such decisions by appropriate judicial authorities, shall be respected.”

In light of recent developments, authorities should suspend all transfers until they are able to ensure that they are voluntary and that Iraqis have adequate information about what awaits them upon their return, Human Rights Watch said. Once people are in Iraq, if they are not wanted for a crime, authorities should ensure that their rights to free movement are respected, including either to return home or to relocate where they choose, as security allows. Iraqi authorities should ensure that they do not confine people not charged with any crime in camps.

South Sudan: Free Detained Editor

Friday, July 19, 2019

Michael Christopher

2019 Private


(Nairobi) – South Sudan’s National Security Service has detained Michael Christopher, the editor-in-chief of the Arabic language daily newspaper Al Watan, without charge since July 17, 2019, Human Rights Watch said today.

“The arbitrary detention of Michael Christopher is the latest brazen attack against freedom of the press in South Sudan,” said Jehanne Henry, associate Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should immediately release him or charge him with a recognized criminal offense.”

National Security Service (NSS) officers arrested Christopher at the Juba International Airport on July 15 as he was leaving the country. They forced him off the plane, confiscated his passport, and told him to report to the NSS headquarters without explaining why. Security officers arrested him on the afternoon of July 17 when he reported to the security service office.

In January, both South Sudan’s Media Authority and the NSS had warned Christopher, after he published an opinion article supporting the political protests in Sudan. The authorities suspended publication of Al Watan in March on grounds of noncompliance and operating without a license. Christopher had to temporarily flee the country due to death threats from persons he believes were security agents.

South Sudan’s National Security Service has often targeted critics of the government and perceived dissidents for harassment and arbitrary arrest and detention. The agency has broad powers of surveillance, arrest, and detention, and has embedded officers in some newspaper offices, leading to a growing climate of self-censorship.

Opposition Candidates Squeezed Out of Upcoming Moscow Election

Friday, July 19, 2019

Muscovites, in Trubnaya Square on the evening of July 18, 2019, protest the exclusion of opposition candidates from the upcoming election for city's the local legislature. Photograph © Yulia Galyamina, one of the excluded candidates. 

This week, Moscow’s election commission published a list of candidates they had allowed to register to run for the city legislative assembly on September 8. The glaring absence of any viable opposition candidate on the list sparked protests in the city.

Local election legislation requires independent candidates to collect signatures from at least 3 percent of eligible voters in their election district to be eligible to run. If the commission rejects less than 10 percent of the collected signatures, the candidate is put on the ballot.

However, Moscow’s commission rejected more than 10 percent of signatures collected in support of all prominent opposition candidates with credible chances of winning. Grounds such as alleged misspelling, wrong addresses, or similar errors, or mistakes in the candidate’s election account data were used. In other cases, based on handwriting analysis, authorities alleged signatures were faked or argued that the signatories weren’t on the official lists of voters.

Several of the rejected signatures belong to prominent public figures. The BBC Russian Service recorded a video in which voters stated their names and reported how the district election commission claimed they weren’t on the voter list. One of the “non-existents,” Elena Lukyanova, a renown professor of law, is, ironically, on the advisory council of Russia’s Central Election Commission.

The rejected candidates can file a legal complaint. But it’s extremely unlikely their complaints can be successfully reviewed in time to register for the elections.

The importance of Moscow for federal politics cannot be overestimated. So it’s not surprising that, similar to Russia’s 2018 presidential vote, the authorities are making special efforts to ensure the new Moscow legislature remain as opposition-free as the current one.

These tactics sparked public protests. At a large unsanctioned rally last week, police detained almost 40 peaceful protestors, including some rejected candidates. A nineteen-year-old protester who was detained was hospitalized with a concussion after police officers beat him. More public protests followed. They’ve been ongoing for days, with more planned for this weekend, July 21-22.

On July 18, a commission of the Russian president’s Human Rights Council condemned the signature verification process as “non-transparent” and urged Moscow's election authorities to let all the candidates who had gathered the required number of signatures take part in the election. If the authorities don’t do this, the trust gap between the government and the public will continue to widen.

Mozambique Passes Law to End Child Marriage

Friday, July 19, 2019

Mozambican girls take part in a lesson as part of a program that aims to help girls stay in school longer and stay out of child marriage in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, April 20, 2018.

© 2019 AP Photo/Christopher Torchia

Mozambique’s national assembly took an important step toward ending the country’s sky-high rate of child marriage by unanimously adopting a law banning the practice. The new law prohibits marriage of children younger than 18 years old, without exception, and awaits the president’s signature to go into effect.

Mozambique has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with almost half of girls marrying before 18, and 1 in 10 before their fifteenth birthday. Child marriage often pushes girls out of school and condemns them to a life of poverty. It leaves them vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse and early pregnancies, which can cause lasting harm and even death.

Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi should sign the proposed law without delay and ensure girls are protected from the harms of child marriage. Government authorities should then make sure that communities know about the law when it comes into force and monitor its implementation.

In 2016, Mozambique launched a National Strategy on Prevention and Fight against Child Marriage. The impact of the strategy, which expires at the end of this year, is unclear.

As parliamentarians acknowledged in the debate around the child marriage law, keeping girls in school is key to preventing child marriages. In addition to ensuring the law is fully enforcd, government authorities should also review efforts to increase school retention for girls as part of its strategy to end child marriage.

The government has already taken a few important steps in this regard. In December 2018, Mozambique revoked a discriminatory 2003 decree that forced pregnant girls to take classes at night school. Education officials should now monitor schools to ensure that pregnant girls are going to school during the day. They should ensure Mozambique’s new education strategy addresses the educational needs of all girls, including pregnant and married girls and young mothers. The government should also address other barriers to their education such as stigma and lack of finances.

By passing this law, the national assembly has recognized Mozambique’s international obligation to uphold the rights of girls. With the president’s signature, children in Mozambique will finally have a new law to protect them.

Kuwait: Activists Arrested for Peaceful Sit-In

Friday, July 19, 2019

Bidun residential area in Taima, al-Jahra, Kuwait. 

© 2019 Human Rights Watch

(Beirut) – Kuwait’s State Security agency arrested at least 15 activists from the stateless Bidun community over the past week, Human Rights Watch said today.

Authorities arrested the activists after they organized a peaceful sit-in at al-Hurriya Square in al- Jahra town near Kuwait City on July 12, 2019 in response to the death of Ayed Hamad Moudath. Moudath, 20, committed suicide on July 7 after the government denied him civil documentation, which is needed to access public services, as well as to study and work. 

“Kuwaiti authorities should immediately release the detained Bidun activists, who were peacefully advocating for their fundamental rights,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The Kuwaiti government needs to fairly resolve the longstanding issue of stateless people in Kuwait instead of trying to silence them.”

For over 50 years, the Bidun, a community of between 88,000 to 106,000 stateless people who claim Kuwaiti nationality, have remained in legal limbo. After an initial period allowing them to register for citizenship, the authorities shifted Bidun citizenship applications to a series of committees that have avoided resolving the claims while maintaining sole authority to determine Bidun access to civil documentation and social services. Article 12 of the 1979 Public Gatherings Law bars non-Kuwaitis from participating in public gatherings.

On July 12, before the sit-in was scheduled to begin, the authorities surrounded the homes of those who had led previous sit-ins and arrested them. They include a prominent human rights defender, Abdulhakim al-Fadhli. The agents also confiscated al-Fadhli’s and his family’s cellphones and computers. The Gulf Center for Human Rights, a nongovernmental organization that documents rights violations in the Middle East, reported that al-Fadhli was beaten while in custody at the Taima police station and was not allowed to file a complaint.

Authorities had previously arrested al-Fadhli several times for his peaceful activities on behalf of the Bidun community.

Other activists arrested between July 11 and 13 are: Awad al-Onan, Ahmed al-Onan, Abdullah al-Fadhli, Mutaib al-Onan, Muhammed al-Anzi, Yousef al-Osmi, ِNawaf Al-Bader, Hamed Jamil, Jarallah al-Fadhli, Yousif al-Bashig, Ahmed al-Anzi, Abdelrezak al-Fadhli, Abdelhadi al-Fadhli, and Alaa al-Saadoun. The authorities arrested activists at their homes, but did not detain people at the sit-in location. Abdelhadi and al-Saadoun were released on July 15, a source told Human Rights Watch. The general prosecutor has extended the detention of others until July 21, the source said.

The source said that the charges against the activists include spreading fake news, harming allied countries, joining a group that calls for the destruction of the country’s basic systems, calling for attacking national interests, calling for public gatherings, participating in public gatherings, and use of cellphones for abusive purposes.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that “everyone,” not just citizens, has the right to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly.

Over the past two decades, the Kuwaiti government’s language to refer to the Bidun has changed, and Kuwaiti authorities now refer to them as “illegal residents.” The government claims that most of them moved to Kuwait from neighboring countries in search of a better livelihood and hid their other nationalities to claim Kuwaiti citizenship. As "illegal residents," the Bidun face obstacles to obtaining civil documentation, leaving them unable to consistently get social services or function as normal members of society and interfering with their fundamental rights to health and work, among others.

Since 2011, the Central System for the Remedy of Situations of Illegal Residents, the administrative body in charge of Bidun affairs, has started issuing temporary ID cards. The process of determining applicants’ eligibility for services and whether they hold another nationality remains opaque, however. In recent years, the ID cards issued to Bidun have often indicated that the cardholder possesses another nationality, such as Iraqi, Saudi, Iranian, Syrian, or Yemeni, but it remains unclear how the Central System determines the individual’s alleged nationality and what due process systems are available for Bidun to challenge the Central System’s decision.

Union Leader Jailed in Kazakhstan

Friday, July 19, 2019

Erlan Baltabay, leader of the independent trade union “Decent Labor,” at his trial in Shymkent, Kazakhstan, April 16, 2019.

© 2019 Dilara Isa/RFE/RL

In yet another development that tightens the authorities’ stranglehold on Kazakhstan’s independent labor movement, a Kazakh court on Wednesday sentenced Erlan Baltabay, a trade union leader affiliated with the now-closed Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (KNPRK), to seven years in jail. The court also banned him from engaging in civic activities, such as trade union activism, for seven years.

Last month, the world’s authoritative international labor rights body, the International Labor Organization (ILO), held a special review of Kazakhstan, criticizing it for its “persistent lack of progress” on fulfilling its labor rights commitments. The ILO called upon the Kazakh government to “ensure that the KNPRK and its affiliates enjoy the full autonomy and independence of a free and independent workers’ organization, without any further delay.” Unfortunately, Baltabay’s sentencing does the opposite.

Baltabay and his lawyer argued in court that the criminal charges levied against him of large-scale misappropriation of funds were politically motivated and unfounded from the start. They explained that the person who made the allegation has no standing to do so under Kazakh law and that authorities should have dismissed the complaint, not brought a criminal case against Baltabay.

The International Trade Union Confederation, of which KNPRK is a member, “harshly condemned” Baltabay’s sentencing, stating the charges were brought “in retaliation for his trade union activism and principled position in support of other [KNPRK] leaders.”

Baltabay is the fourth trade union leader in two years to be criminally convicted or jailed as the government’s continues to crackdown on Kazakhstan’s independent trade union movement.

If recently elected President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev doesn’t want his predecessor’s negative legacy on labor rights to tarnish his own record, he should ensure a swift end to the crackdown on independent trade unions and that Kazakh authorities take meaningful and urgent action to fulfill their ILO obligations.

No one, including Erlan Baltabay, should be jailed for defending workers’ rights and speaking out in their defense.

Will Next UK Government Stand up for Human Rights Defenders?

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Union Flag flies near the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, June 7, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

The United Kingdom likes to see itself as a champion for human rights defenders globally. It has recently published guidelines for the protection and support of rights defenders around the world. While welcome, real support requires a willingness to speak out even when it carries political costs.

The new guidelines praise the courageous work of human rights defenders in the face of risks including threats, intimidation, harassment, and detention. The guidelines rightly identify groups which are in greater danger, such as journalists, women, and LGBT activists, and express the UK’s commitment to support them “wherever they are in the world.”

But when it comes to actually standing up for human rights defenders, the UK’s record is patchy. While it sometimes speaks out in private, it remains reluctant to do so publicly, even though doing so would raise the cost to states that seek to silence those who speak truth to power.

The UK government has so far done very little about credible reports of the torture, sexual harassment, and assault of Saudi women activists currently on trial for defending human rights in their country. It has failed to hold Hungary to account for its efforts to clamp down on human rights groups and rule of law. And it has failed to criticize United Arab Emirates authorities for the unjust imprisonment of Emirati activist Ahmed Mansoor on his peaceful calls for reform.

The UK hopes that by publishing these guidelines, defenders might be encouraged to understand that the British government might be able to support them. But if the UK is really serious about this, it should be willing to speak out publicly on their behalf when they are in trouble, including when their safety is at risk in countries that are UK allies.

In short, the UK’s new Prime Minister should make it a priority to protect and support human rights defenders no matter where they are in the world.

Critical Time for Human Rights in Guinea

Friday, July 19, 2019

Anti-riot police clash with Guinean opposition supporters in Conakry on March 22, 2018. 

© 2018 CELLOU BINANI/AFP/Getty Images.

Next year, Guinea’s human rights record will come under scrutiny in a review carried out by the Human Rights Council. Human Rights Watch yesterday gave the Council a report that looks at the state of human rights in the country and where progress is still needed.

Guinea’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) comes at a pivotal moment. Since President Alpha Condé came to power in 2010 – ending five decades of authoritarian rule – Guinea has made significant progress in strengthening the rule of law, particularly by improving oversight of security forces and limiting the role of the army in law enforcement.

Now though, with presidential elections set to take place in late 2020, a rights crisis may return. The government has, since July 2018, banned virtually all demonstrations, but opposition supporters are likely to take to the streets if Condé tries to change the constitution so he can stand for a third term.

Political protests in Guinea are often violent. Scores of demonstrators, as well as several members of the security forces, have been killed in the past decade, and Human Rights Watch has documented dozens of alleged fatal shootings by the police and gendarmerie.

Condé’s government has done too little to deter state-sponsored violence by investigating and prosecuting alleged unlawful killings. He came to power in 2010, but the first conviction of a member of the security forces for shooting a protester dead didn’t happen until February 2019.

Human Rights Watch’s report ahead of the UPR repeats the recommendation first made in April, that the government revive a special judicial unit to more effectively investigate protest deaths.

Guinea’s UPR is a critical occasion for United Nations member states to push the government to make progress on human rights issues, particularly ahead of the 2020 elections. They should, as a priority, urge the government to ensure security forces use force only when absolutely necessary, to address long-standing impunity for state-sponsored violence, and to respect freedom of assembly.

Another Dual National Arrested in Iran

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Iran’s judiciary has just confirmed the arrest of Fariba Adelkhah, a French-Iranian anthropologist, in Tehran. Media sources had earlier reported that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Intelligence Organization arrested Adelkhah, a researcher at the Paris-based academic institute Sciences Po, at her home on June 7. She has been detained ever since. The accusations against her remain unclear, but her arrest fits an all-too-familiar pattern concerning Iran’s targeting of dual nationals.


Fariba Adelkhah

© Sciences Po

As the IRGC Intelligence Organization has gained more power domestically, the agency has carried out the majority of arrests of Iranian dual national citizens and foreigners whom it perceives have links with Western academic, economic, and cultural institutions.

These include academics, art curators, and journalists. During interrogations, IRGC officials reportedly accuse detainees of espionage, not based on specific evidence, but simply because of detainees’ affiliations with Western public institutions. Iranian state media also broadcast so-called “documentaries,” accusing suspects of being spies for foreign countries before they are convicted.

Iranian authorities systematically deny people charged with national security crimes access to lawyers of their choosing during the investigative phase of the legal process.

Dual nationals who are lucky enough to be released are usually not acquitted, but freed on “humanitarian grounds.” And recent indications that Iran might be willing to free more dual and foreign nationals in return for bilateral agreements, for example with the US, only reinforces the belief that these arrests are not based on evidence of criminal activity and that detainees are being used as bargaining chips.

Shamefully, many of those unlawfully detained were often working hard to connect Iran to the global community in order to benefit Iranians. These individuals should be thanked, not treated as criminals for their work. Yet Iranian authorities seem bent on crushing people’s rights, not respecting them. French authorities should do everything they can so that Adelkhah does not become another such victim.

Kenya Should Address Unlawful Killings by Police

Thursday, July 18, 2019

It is time for Kenyan authorities to address the scourge of police killings in some of Nairobi’s poorest neighborhoods.

Human Rights Watch investigations have found that in three separate incidents, Nairobi police killed no less than 21 alleged suspects, apparently unlawfully. Most of the killings were not reported or investigated. Police don’t follow their own procedures for reporting each killing. In the few cases where investigations are ongoing, police have failed to cooperate with investigators from Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA), a civilian police accountability institution.

While we managed to investigate 21 recent killings, activists working in these neighborhoods and the media report much higher numbers. But for many reasons, including the non-cooperation by police to obscure justice, and reluctance by victims and witnesses to report the crimes, police killings are rarely reported or investigated.  

Last week, Human Rights Watch wrote to Hillary Mutyambai, who recently took over as the inspector general of Police, to share our research findings on police killings and push for accountability.

Lack of accountability for police abuses persists despite Kenya having created what should have been strong accountability institutions following the adoption of the 2010 constitution. In November 2018, the IPOA, one of the institutions created after 2010, said it was investigating 243 cases of police killings that occurred that year alone. This does not include the number of cases that might not have been reported that year. Yet, even with that, only a handful of those under investigations are likely going to make it through to prosecution.

IPOA has fallen way below expectations in terms of investigations and successful prosecutions. It lacks resources, capacity, and crucially, the cooperation from police – necessary to operate. Mutyambai can and should turn things around and ensure the Kenya Police Service follows its own procedures for reporting every killing, but also cooperates with IPOA and supports justice for victims of police abuses.     


Indonesian Woman with Mental Health Condition Charged with Blasphemy

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Screenshot of a viral video showing an incident involving a woman living with paranoid schizophrenia arguing with worshippers at a mosque in Bogor, a Jakarta suburb in Indonesia. 

© 2019 Pantau

Indonesian police last week senselessly detained and charged a woman with a mental health condition with blasphemy after she entered a mosque in Bogor, a Jakarta suburb, wearing shoes and accompanied by her dog.

A video of the June 30 incident, which has since gone viral, shows the 52-year-old Catholic woman agitated and wrongly claiming that the mosque was preparing to marry her husband to another woman.

Her behavior prompted angry responses from the worshippers. She became aggressive, reportedly hitting a mosque guard when he asked her to leave.

The woman is known to have lived with paranoid schizophrenia since 2013, and a psychiatric examination at a police hospital in Jakarta confirmed her condition.

Bogor police charged her with blasphemy, presumably because Islamic rules consider canine saliva to be unclean and visitors should take off their shoes inside the mosque. The district court will decide whether she should be tried or not. She has been detained ever since the incident. The police submitted her case to the public prosecution office on July 10.

Indonesia’s 1965 blasphemy law punishes deviations from the central tenets of the country’s six officially recognized religions with up to five years in prison. The law was only used eight times in its first four decades but convictions rose to 125 in the decade during the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono from 2004 to 2014. More than 30 people have been convicted of blasphemy since President Joko Widodo took office in 2014.

While the woman’s behavior in the mosque was inappropriate, charging her with the criminal offense of blasphemy for actions that appear directly related to her mental health condition show how the law is so easily abused. Worryingly, Indonesia’s Islamist groups are increasing using blasphemy cases to mobilize and agitate the country’s Muslim majority. The government should revoke the blasphemy law and drop all pending blasphemy cases, including this latest one, which has needlessly left a vulnerable person to face prison time.

UK’s Unfinished Reckoning on Overseas Torture

Thursday, July 18, 2019


A motorboat passes by the MI6 building in London August 25, 2010.

© 2010 Reuters The British government is expected to announce this week whether an independent inquiry will resume into the UK’s involvement in overseas torture and transfers (known as “renditions”) in US-led counterterrorism operations after the 9/11 attacks. If it does, it may help bring justice for victims who suffered terrible abuses in which UK officials were complicit.

The original UK government inquiry, set up in 2010, was tasked with investigating alleged UK complicity in the kidnapping and unlawful rendition of terrorism suspects and their detention and torture outside the country. But the inquiry was shelved in 2012, following criticism about its weak powers and lack of independence.

In 2013, the government handed responsibility for the matter to a parliamentary committee with limited powers.

And although the UK police opened a separate criminal investigation in 2012 into the role senior British officials played in assisting torture, the Crown Prosecution Service announced in 2016 it would not prosecute anyone. This despite strong evidence showing UK officials’ involvement in several egregious cases of rendition to torture in Libya.

The UK government has since publicly apologized to several of the Libyan victims for its role in their brutal treatment, and reached out-of-court compensation settlements with British nationals detained by the US at Guantanamo Bay and another family renditioned to Libya. Intelligence guidelines have been revised. And the parliamentary committee’s deeply damning findings have been made public.

But no one has yet been held to account for their role in abuses. And disturbing new allegations keep trickling out.

The Crown Prosecution Service seems to have set the bar for complicity in torture so high that it may be nearly impossible to prosecute anyone in the UK for assisting torture overseas. In explaining why it would not prosecute anyone for rendition to torture in Libya, the prosecutors’ office suggested it would have needed evidence that the “conduct” of UK nationals had “influenced” the Libyan decisionmakers.

The Director of Public Prosecutions should publish clear guidance on the evidence needed to prosecute someone for complicity in torture abroad, and this guidance should be applied objectively to those implicated in breaking the law.

Years after Human Rights Watch found clear evidence of UK complicity in torture in Libya and Pakistan, the UK government should finally help victims obtain justice.

Central African Republic: Armed Group Kills 46 Civilians

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Top row, from left to right: Augustin Vote (Killed in Koundjili); Raphael Haoumi (Killed in Lemouna); Zachée Gong-Pou (Killed in Lemouna); Sosthène Kobaikera (Killed in Lemouna); Evariste Ngororo (Killed in Bohong).

Bottom row, from left to right: Olivier Yaboutouni (Killed in Koundjili); Fernand Houltia (Killed in Koundjili); Jean-Bosco Kella (Killed in Bohong); Florentin Bissi (Killed in Koundjili); Basile Houltia (Killed in Koundjili).

© 2019 Private

(Nairobi) – Fighters from the armed group Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation, or 3R, killed at least 46 civilians on May 21, 2019, in three attacks in Ouham Pendé province in the Central African Republic. In February, 14 armed groups, including 3R, signed a peace accord with the Central African government and in March, the 3R commander, General Sidiki Abass (also known as Bi Sidi Souleymane) was appointed by presidential decree a military adviser to the prime minister.

“The killings of these civilians are war crimes that need to be effectively investigated and those responsible brought to justice,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “That the evidence implicates 3R and Abass, who have signed a peace accord designed to end such crimes, makes a prompt and independent investigation all the more urgent.”

The May 21 attacks took place in the town of Bohong and the villages of Koundjili and Lemouna, in the northwestern part of the country, all at around the same time, which suggests they may have been coordinated. Several people who attended a meeting with Abass in Bohong the day before the attacks told Human Rights Watch that in the meeting, he threatened to carry out attacks on civilians.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 36 people in Ouham Pendé province, including in Bohong, Koundjili, and Lemouna, in June, including 12 witnesses to the 3R killings and 9 relatives of victims. These people said that 3R members had killed civilians in all three locations and pillaged in Bohong. Human Rights Watch also spoke with a representative of 3R on June 15 in Bangui, the capital.

The 3R group emerged in late 2015 asserting that they were needed to protect the minority Peuhl population in the region from attacks by anti-balaka militia who were targeting Muslims in the aftermath of violence that started in early 2013. In April and May 2016, 3R conducted attacks on villages in the Koui subprefecture, allegedly in retaliation for anti-balaka activity. 3R attacks on civilians in 2016 and 2017 led to the displacement of tens of thousands in the Ouham Pendé province.

The United Nations has 13,677 troops in its Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and has combat-ready soldiers in Bocaranga, the capital of the Ouham Pendé province, who routinely patrol the roads to Bohong, Koundjili, and Lemouna. MINUSCA’s mandate to protect citizens includes authority to use force as necessary, and they should review their operational protocols to ensure they are maximizing protection of civilians, Human Rights Watch said.


United Nations peacekeepers, MINUSCA, stand guard in Koundjili, in northwest Central African Republic, on May 28, 2019.

© 2019 GGt

During a May 20 meeting in Bohong between 3R and local authorities, participants heard shots fired at a distance. It is unclear who fired the shots or why, but people interviewed said that Abass appeared enraged when others at the meeting suggested that the shots were fired by 3R fighters. “He told us, ‘I came here peacefully, but it is you, the people of Bohong, who have declared war. Now I will show you how to shoot,’” a local official who participated in the meeting said. Another official who participated in the meeting said it ended with Abass promising to return to Bohong to bring war and install a base in the town.

The next day, May 21, 3R fighters entered the town and immediately started firing on civilians. The town’s people fled to the nearby woods. At least 10 people were killed as a result of the attack, including Monique Douma, a 40-year-old woman with a physical disability. A relative of Douma said: “When it was time to flee, I told Monique to come with me, but she said she couldn’t. She said, ‘I don’t have the strength to run.’” Douma’s home was burned while she hid inside. She died the morning after the attack.

Multiple witnesses and authorities described in detail how 3R fighters pillaged Bohong over the next day.

About three hours before the Bohong attack, a separate group of 3R fighters carried out extrajudicial killings of 32 men in neighboring Koundjili and Lemouna villages, northeast of Bohong.


A man in Lemouna, in northwest Central African Republic, holds the photos of Sosthène Kobaikera and Zachée Gong-Pou, two victims of a 3R attack on May 21, 2019.

© 2019 Human Rights Watch

In Lemouna, approximately 25 3R fighters gathered the village’s male population for a meeting. “This is not unusual,” a witness said. “The 3R would sometimes come to talk to us about things.” However, on this day, after they forced the men to gather, they tied them up, held them in front of the village chief’s home for about an hour and then executed them.

Witnesses from Koundjili said that a group of 3R fighters arrived on motorcycles and called the men from the village to come to them. This was also not uncommon as 3R controlled this road. However, once they had gathered 11 men, they made them lay down and executed them. “I was just behind my brothers who were walking over to the 3R,” said one witness. “But when they [my brothers] got to the 3R, the fighters yelled, ‘Now lay down!’ When I heard that, I stayed back…. I ran into the bush and started to hear many shots.” The fighters also killed two other male civilians before leaving.

On May 24, Abass handed three men who he claimed were responsible for the killings in Koundjili and Lemouna over to local authorities and MINUSCA. The men are detained in Bangui awaiting trial. The Central African government should not accept that handing over these men absolves Abass of responsibility for these killings, Human Rights Watch said.

The May 21 crimes fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), whose prosecutor opened an investigation into crimes committed in the country since 2012 in September 2014, as well as the Special Criminal Court (SCC), a judicial body with national and international judges and prosecutors that has a mandate to investigate and prosecute grave human rights violations committed in the country since 2003.

The recent peace accord has vague provisions related to the role of post-conflict justice and does not mention specific judicial processes, or recent efforts to promote justice in the country, though it recognizes the role impunity has played in entrenching violence. The SCC represents a recent national effort to restore justice and offers a meaningful opportunity to hold accountable commanders from all parties to the conflict who are responsible for war crimes, such as those committed by the 3R, Human Rights Watch said.

A representative of 3R told Human Rights Watch that the fighters who carried out the killings in Lemouna and Koundjili were not acting on orders from 3R commanders or Abass. He denied that any civilians were killed on May 21, 2019, in Bohong, insisting that only one fighter from the anti-balaka militia was killed. He also denied that 3R fighters pillaged the town. He insisted that Abass “does his best to control his men” and that the timing of the violence in Bohong and the attacks on Koundjili and Lemouna were “a bad coincidence.”

A condition of the peace accord that Abass, as the 3R commander, signed in Bangui is that those responsible for further violations of international humanitarian law, including crimes against civilians, would face international sanctions. Sanction procedures against 3R should begin immediately, Human Rights Watch said.

“In the face of multiple witnesses who will attest that Abass openly declared his intent to kill civilians and then followed through on it, Abass and his representatives in Bangui are trying to cover up a coordinated and planned day of killing,” Mudge said. “If the guarantors of the peace deal intend for it to actually end war crimes, they have to show Abass, and all parties, that they will be held fully to account for their actions.”

Central African Republic in Crisis

The Central African Republic has been in crisis since late 2012, when mostly Muslim Seleka rebels began a military campaign against the government of former President François Bozizé. The Seleka took control of Bangui in March 2013, and their rule was marked by widespread human rights abuses, including the wanton killing of civilians. In mid-2013, Christian and animist anti-balaka militias organized to fight the Seleka. Associating all Muslims with the Seleka, the anti-balaka carried out large-scale reprisal attacks against Muslim civilians in Bangui and western parts of the country.

Since 2013, Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases in which anti-balaka militias, civilians, and Seleka groups targeted the Muslim Peuhl. In 2014, Human Rights Watch documented that anti-balaka groups in the southwest held Peuhl women and girls hostage and repeatedly raped them. The 3R was established in 2015, purportedly to defend the Peuhl from attacks. But the 3R, in turn, attacked civilians. Human Rights Watch documented that 3R fighters killed at least 50 civilians in the Koui sous-prefecture in 2016. In one of the most brutal attacks, on the capital of Koui, De Gaulle, 3R fighters raped 23 women and girls.

The Peace Deal and the Bangui Forum

The African Union-mediated peace accord signed in February 2019 followed 18 months of talks with 14 armed groups and the central government, often while the groups continued their brutal attacks on civilians. The accord granted three armed-group leaders key government posts, including Abass’s appointment as military adviser to the prime minister on special mixed units in the northwest zone.


Sidiki Abass (also known as Bi Sidi Souleymane), commander of a group called Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation, or 3R, at the peace deal signing ceremony in Bangui, Central African Republic, on February 6, 2019.

© 2019 GGt

In May 2015, the Bangui Forum, which marked the conclusion of national consultations, agreed that “no amnesty” would be tolerated for those responsible for and acting as accomplices in international crimes. The Bangui Forum recognized that the lack of justice in the Central African Republic since 2003 was one of the main causes of successive crises. Rewarding abusive commanders with government posts will only fuel further abuse, Human Rights Watch said. Militia leaders, including Abass, should be investigated with the intent to prosecute in an effort to hold key figures responsible for serious crimes to account and make justice a reality for victims.

3R Attacks in the Ouham Pendé Province

Human Rights Watch has reached no conclusion as to why 3R carried out coordinated attacks on civilians on May 21, 2019. However, some local officials suggested that the attacks may have been a show of force to expand 3R’s area of control and further control regional cattle migration routes.

Bohong Meeting – May 20

On May 20, a meeting was held at the gendarmerie in Bohong to address violence between Peuhl herders and farmers and settle a dispute over cattle theft. The meeting was attended by local authorities from Bohong, Bocaranga, Koui (the sub-prefecture where Abass is based), a representative from MINUSCA, and the head of the local gendarmerie. Human Rights Watch spoke individually with five people who attended the meeting. All reported that it was tense and marked by repeated threats by Abass against the local population. After the meeting, four cows that had been stolen from Peuhl herders in a nearby village were handed over to Abass and his men in order to be returned.

In the meeting, Abass insisted to local authorities that something needed to be done /to stop attacks on Peuhl. Shots fired in the town during the meeting, under unclear circumstances, enraged Abass. One local authority said:

The shooting made things worse. We said it was the 3R who shot, but Sidiki [Abass] insisted it was the anti-balaka. This made him very angry, and he said he wanted to make a base in Bohong. He said, “You have shot at us! If you want a war, I will give you one and make my base here…. You will see.” The sous-préfet [a local authority] of Koui asked me to help calm him down. But he left very upset. I was not sure about his intentions. He was clear that he wanted to establish a base in Bohong. When he gets mad, he does not listen to people. Other authorities tried to calm him down, but he did not come here to exchange ideas. He came to impose his rule and to threaten war.

Another participant at the meeting said that Abass also announced, “You people of Bohong are stubborn. I will make my base here.… You can’t bring me war. I will bring it to you, and I will show you how to shoot. I will show you who I am.”

A local authority said that he anticipated an attack in the area following the meeting. “After that meeting,” he said, “we all doubted his intentions.”

Attack on Bohong – May 21

The next day, on May 21, a group of 3R fighters were seen outside of Bohong. A local authority officer went to meet the fighters to discuss their presence:

At 8:00 a.m., I got word of 3R fighters on the outskirts of the town. I went on a motorbike with a gendarme to where they were, five kilometers from Bohong on the Bocaranga road. I saw the 3R fighters. The leader said he had more men in the bush. I asked him why they were there. He said they came for the question of the four cows. I said, “Sidiki took them yesterday.” The 3R commander said, “I know, it is true. Sidiki told me that he took the cows to Koui. There is no problem. We will take some tea and food here and then we will go to Koui.” The conversation lasted five minutes. We agreed all was fine and I left.

That morning, much of the town was busy with a food distribution organized by World Vision, an international nongovernmental organization.

Around 2 p.m., after World Vision staff left Bohong, 3R fighters began their attack on the town. Witnesses said that they fled immediately after the town was attacked. Human Rights Watch spoke with three civilians whose relatives had not managed to flee and whose bodies were found in wells and latrines when the civilians returned to the town. The 3R fighters killed at least 10 people in the town, including Evariste Ngororo, a 39-year-old man. A relative of Ngororo said that he found the body in a well when he came back to Bohong after fleeing into the surrounding woods:

[Ngororo’s body] was found dumped in a well, just behind the Catholic Church. We had been looking for him. We did not know what had happened to him. My niece saw blood spots around the well. So, we went there and found the body. Someone went down to the well with a rope and a torch and extracted the body. When the body was pulled out, I recognized him. The body was already showing signs of decomposition, but I could see that there were two major gunshot injuries, one in the head and one in the stomach.

One child, a 10-year-old girl, Lesley Yanja, was killed during the attack. A relative of Yanja said: “When the gunfire started, we decided that it was not safe for us to stay, so I arranged for my five children to leave. I took them on motorbike, and I drove about two kilometers away. My plan was to go back home and take Lesley to safety. But it was too late. We found Lesley’s body at about 3 p.m. on the ground in the neighborhood. She had been shot, one bullet in the head.”

Four additional civilians died while fleeing the attack, including two babies. Both had been born in the days before the attack and the family members had to flee the local health center, whose staff had also fled. A relative of a 16-year-old girl who had given birth on May 19 took the baby with her when the attack started:

The shots were being fired near the health center, so we could not stay there; it was not safe. Patients and nurses were also worried, and at a certain point everyone was running away. I decided to take the newborn because my daughter-in-law was still too weak. We ran into the bush. While running, I fell; there was a hole on the ground which I did not see. I fell over the baby whom I was holding in my arms, the baby hit a rock in the head. I stood up and kept running, then after five minutes, I stopped to check on the baby and I realized that he was dead. We buried the baby in the bush.

A day-old baby also died as his parents fled the attack. The mother said:

The sound of gunfire was coming closer, so we could not stay at the health center. We had to leave; we had no choice. I took my little boy and ran away. He was very small. I could not take anything with me, no blanket, nothing. The newborn was exposed; he was not covered enough. We walked for about 20 kilometers and crossed the river Ouham. We thought it was safer on the other side. As soon as I crossed the bridge, I checked on my baby. I noticed that he was no longer breathing.… I think he died because he was too weak; he could not take it.

On May 22, Abass returned to Bohong to collect his men and coordinate how they would transport the looted goods from the town. A local authority who returned to the town on May 22 said: “I saw Sidiki. He was there. I know him. He was with his men, and he was arranging the stolen goods at the gendarmerie. He was calm; he was pointing at what goods go into which vehicle. He was not angry with his men.”

Extrajudicial Killings in Koundjili and Lemouna – May 21

Between 12 to 14 motorcycles carrying 3R fighters arrived in Lemouna just after 11 a.m. on May 21. The fighters came from the direction of Bocaranga and residents said that they recognized the fighters as among those based in Lételé. Four motorcycles continued to Koundjili, while the fighters who remained in Lemouna called a meeting. A witness said: “This is not unusual. The 3R would sometimes come to talk to us about things because they controlled the zone.” However, witnesses and survivors said the fighters quickly became aggressive and started beating the men near the village chief’s compound.

When they had gathered 22 men, they tied them up and, after waiting for the fighters from Koundjili to return, they executed 19 of the men. Three men survived. A survivor said:

Some men, like me, were tied alone. Some were tied together. We could not ask what was happening. We knew this was very bad. We had many men tied up. They held us for some time. One of the 3R fighters said, “We will wait for our chief who is in Koundjili.” It was maybe an hour. Then the chief arrived. He said, “God trapped you!” Then he himself took his gun and shot Bari Blizzard in the back. Then he shot the president of the village youth committee, Michel Kobikaya. Then he shot Raphael he had been forced to lay down, he was shot in the head. Then he shot the director of the school, Hermain. Then the 3R leader sat on his motorbike and his fighters shot all of us. I was next to Bari when he was shot, and his blood went all over me. I was shot in the leg when the shooting started, so I fell down. I was covered in blood, so they thought I was dead.

Another survivor said:

We were tied up, two by two, from the back with a rope. I still have the marks from the rope on my arms. I was tied up alongside my younger brother, Christoph Seneimi. Some of us were lying with our faces to the ground; those who attempted to raise their heads were kicked in the head. When the motorbikes which went to Koundjili came back, the shooting started. My brother got several bullets and was killed on the spot. His body fell over me. One of the bullets which hit my brother, hit me too, on my right arm. I played dead; that’s how I survived.

The fighters who went to Koundjili called people to come to them when they arrived in the village. They gathered 11 men, made them lay down under a tree along the road, and executed them. A witness to the killings said:

They stopped their motorcycles on the main road. Usually, when they stop on the main road, a chief will go and greet them. [But] they just started to collect people in the immediate area. They were saying, “You, young men, come here!” They were being aggressive, and we knew that something was not right. Then, suddenly, under the mango tree, they told the men to lie down. I watched from a distance. They made the men lie down, and they did not say anything to them. The men on the ground could not say anything. There was no time. Three of the fighters just shot them. Then the 3R fighters went up the hill [into the town] and shot two more people there. Then, as quickly as they came, they left for Lemouna.

One of those killed in town was Cesar Tussessekia, a 36-year-old father of five who was shot in the back. Tussessekia had an audible disability and would not have heard the earlier shooting.

Response of 3R

On May 24, 3R issued a news release, signed by Abass, apologizing to the people of Koundjili and Lemouna for the killings and reiterating the group’s willingness to establish peace and reconciliation in the country.

On June 15, Human Rights Watch interviewed 3R’s Bangui representative and a member of the executive committee that follows the implementation of the peace accords, who simply called himself General Siloo. He said that the attack on Bohong was in response to an anti-balaka attack. He said only one anti-balaka fighter was killed and that the town was not pillaged. He said that Human Rights Watch had been fooled by the local community who have “a strategy to burn their own homes and then ask the international community to come and take photos.... They also have a habit of stealing from each other.”

Siloo said the killings in Koundjili and Lemouna were by fighters operating outside the orders and control of Abass and the 3R command:

We wonder if someone was behind these acts. We think there was some influence from outside, but we are yet to understand from where. [A 3R commander who participated in the attack] was in contact with Seleka groups…. Maybe the Seleka are jealous of 3R’s good reputation and they wanted to tarnish our image.

Siloo said that the group would open its own investigation, “but many bad 3R have fled after the attacks because we handed the others to the authorities. We are searching for the other men. I don’t know how many, but there are many.”

Iraq: Military Enter Camp, Occupy School for ‘Screening’

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The school at Hammam al-Alil 1 camp for displaced people south of Mosul that security forces occupied on July 6, 7, and 9 in order to conduct security screenings of camp residents. 

© 2019 Belkis Wille/Human Rights Watch

(Erbil) – Iraqi military have accompanied police in entering a camp for displaced people south of Mosul and started “screening” over 3,500 households there, Human Rights Watch said today. The screenings appear to include questioning camp residents about the actions and whereabouts of their relatives who are suspected of Islamic State (also known as ISIS) affiliation.

The arrival of the armed men, who occupied a school in the camp, is causing panic among camp residents, who have told Human Rights Watch that they fear arrest over the acts of their relatives, and in some cases sexual exploitation. Iraqi authorities have said they plan to conduct similar screenings at other camps for displaced people in the governorate.

“While Iraqi police forces should be taking reasonable actions to improve security for everyone, the military should not be occupying schools or even entering camps for the displaced,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “No one should become a criminal suspect just because of their relatives.”

Nine residents of Hammam al-Alil 1 camp, 30 kilometers south of Mosul, told Human Rights Watch that on July 6, agents arrived from Military Intelligence, the National Security Service (NSS), the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) forces under the Ministry of Interior, and local police.

The camp houses over 3,500 families who have been displaced for years, since fighting between ISIS and Iraqi forces broke out in the area. The families in the camp were screened when they arrived.

After some discussion, the residents said the security agents decided to conduct the screenings from the school inside the camp, which is closed for summer recess. Given the involvement of military forces, this violates international humanitarian principles and is contrary to the Safe Schools Declaration, a commitment Iraq endorsed to protect education in conflict by refraining from the use of schools by military forces. Human Rights Watch has found that the presence of fighting forces in schools endangers students and teachers, can lead to the damage and destruction of education infrastructure, and can interfere with students’ right to education.

Two witnesses told Human Rights Watch that there is already a screening site next to the camp. Aid workers at the camp said they protested the use of the school, but that security forces ignored their concerns and began using the school to screen residents on July 9, calling on families to start coming in in groups of 25.

After the first day of screening, security forces halted the process because of the objections from the aid groups, three aid workers said. As of July 17, Human Rights Watch was informed that authorities in Baghdad had decided that the screenings would relocate to the nearby screening site in coming days. 

Three witnesses also said the security forces were carrying arms when they arrived and during the screening, including at the doorway into the school caravan. An army colonel who manages security at the screening site adjacent to the camp told Human Rights Watch that they needed to be armed because his forces do not have a presence inside the camp, and because of fears that camp residents are potentially armed, smuggle drugs and alcohol into the camp, and are engaged in criminal activity like prostitution.

Former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a decree in 2017 reiterating orders that security forces are not allowed to enter camps with weapons.

Three aid workers said the authorities told camp management they intended to conduct screenings to gather the details about the families inside the camp including their governorate of origin and to identify which families were ISIS-affiliated. The aid workers said the managers implied that families might be hiding ISIS relatives, saying they had been informed that some women in the camp with supposedly missing husbands had become pregnant in recent months, and they said they wanted to issue civil documentation to those without it.

The witnesses said they saw security forces give a group of informal community leaders in the camp forms and told the leaders that they had to give one form to each family and would risk legal action if they missed anyone. Human Rights Watch has obtained copies.

The forms tell each family to list all family members, with names, birthdates, gender, and marital status, the family’s home address, type of vehicle, and date of displacement. The forms tell families to list every family member who joined ISIS and to provide details on when they died, disappeared, or were arrested. The forms provided do not say why this information is being gathered, or by which authority.

The military colonel who manages security at the screening site outside the camp also told Human Rights Watch on July 11 that the authorities wanted to ensure that all families in the camp missing civil documentation could obtain it. However, two families who underwent the screenings on July 9 said that they told security forces they had children without civil documentation and the security forces did nothing to register the children or facilitate their access to documentation.

One woman said that she told security forces that her husband, who had joined ISIS, died in September 2017. She said: “They asked me if I was sure he was dead, and I said yes. Then they threatened – we will check that and if it turns out that you lied, we will take legal action against you.”

Another resident said: “The screenings triggered a panic in the camp, with families fearing arrest just because they have a relative who joined ISIS.” He said he knew of families who fled the camp upon hearing about the screenings, even though their home had been destroyed during military operations and they had nowhere to go.

Human Rights Watch has documented dozens of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances in the context of screenings linked to counterterrorism operations over the last three years in Iraq, including of family members of people perceived to have been affiliated with ISIS.

“Women near my tent were saying to me they were scared of what might happen to them going into that school alone to be screened by a group of male security forces,” the second resident said.

Four camp residents said they personally knew of cases of security forces engaging in sexual exploitation in the camp in the past. Two women described security forces entering the camp and coercing women they knew into sex, including for pay, particularly women who no longer had male adult relatives with them. One camp resident said she knew of two women in the camp who had become pregnant within the last six months as a result of coerced sex by security forces in incidents not linked to the screenings.

Two senior aid workers said the authorities have said they are planning to conduct these screenings at all camps for displaced people in Nineveh. They said they fear the security forces will again violate principles around the civilian nature of the camp by entering the camp armed and by taking over and using civilian infrastructure.

Iraqi forces should carry out Iraq’s commitments under the Safe Schools Declaration and refrain from using schools for military purposes. No military forces should enter displacement camps with their arms.

Individuals should only be detained according to the law, when there is evidence of their having committed criminal offenses themselves, and not because of the actions of their relatives.

“Security forces should ensure that they conduct their operations in line with Iraqi and international principles, and in a way that is humane and dignified for the families who participate in it,” Fakih said.

Malaysia: End Use of Sedition Act

Wednesday, July 17, 2019


Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad listens to questions during an interview with foreign media on the government's one year anniversary in Putrajaya, Malaysia on Thursday, May 9, 2019. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Vincent Thian (New York) – The Malaysian government should reinstate its moratorium on using the Sedition Act pending the law’s repeal, Human Rights Watch said today. Previous Malaysian governments have used the broadly-worded law, which goes well beyond inciting the public to violence, to silence critics of the government, the judiciary, and Malaysia’s royalty.

While the current government, which took office in May 2018, promised to repeal the Sedition Act, the attorney general’s office has recently sought higher penalties in two pending sedition cases, raising concerns about the commitment to reform.

“It’s outrageous that Malaysia’s self-described ‘reformist’ government seems intent on jailing people under the justly maligned Sedition Act,” said Linda Lakhdhir. “The government should impose a moratorium on this long-abused law until it can be repealed.”

The government ran on a platform promising to repeal oppressive laws, including the Sedition Act. On October 11, 2018, the communications and multimedia minister, Gobind Singh Deo, announced that the Cabinet had agreed to a moratorium on use of the law pending repeal. However, the government lifted that moratorium on November 30, 2018, in response to disturbances surrounding a Hindu temple in Subang Jaya, and the law has since been used to arrest individuals for comments critical of the Malaysian monarchy.

In a recent case, the public prosecutor filed a cross-appeal against preacher Wan Ji Wan Hussin’s appeal of his conviction under the Sedition Act, seeking to enhance his sentence. On July 9, the High Court denied Wan Ji’s appeal and increased his sentence from nine months to one year in prison. The public prosecutor has also appealed the decision of the High Court to replace the eight-month jail term imposed on activist Haris Ibrahim after his conviction for sedition with a fine of RM4,000 (US$970). The government is seeking the reimposition of a prison sentence.

Following public outcry over the increase of Wan Ji’s sentence, the Attorney General Tommy Thomas said he was not aware of the case and that the cross-appeal was filed before the May 2018 election. He added, however, that “where there are no alternatives under the laws, then in appropriate cases, [the Attorney General] could not rule out applying the Sedition Act, until it is repealed.”

The government appears to be backtracking on other abusive laws, Human Rights Watch said. On July 16, Mohamed Hanipa Maidin, the deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s department, stated that the government would submit amendments to the Official Secrets Act (OSA) “in its efforts to tighten the current regulations to prevent leakages in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) environment and current threats.” He also stated that a Freedom of Information Act would be put forward to “offset the impact of the OSA.”

By criminalizing the disclosure or receipt of documents without requiring that the government demonstrate that such disclosure would pose a “real and identifiable threat of causing significant harm,” Malaysia’s Official Secrets Act violates international freedom of speech standards and fosters a culture of secrecy that runs counter to the public’s interest in access to information about government activity, Human Rights Watch said.

“Malaysia should be making it harder, not easier, to misuse the overbroad Official Secrets Act,” Lakhdhir said. “The government needs to show that it’s really committed to an open society and has shed the heavy-handed ways of the past.”

Russia Fined for Anti-LGBT Actions

Wednesday, July 17, 2019


Russian blogger, Zhenya Svetski, stands with a sign reading “I am not ‘gay propaganda’” in Moscow, December 2018. 

© 2018 Dmitry Belyakov for Human Rights Watch The European Court of Human Rights ruled this week that the Russian government must pay approximately $41,000 in damages to three lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights groups for having refused their registration in recent years.

From 2006 to 2011, Rainbow House, the Movement for Marriage Equality, and the Sochi Pride House attempted to register their respective organizations with Russian authorities. The government denied their applications, claiming the organizations “will destroy the moral values of society” or “undermine [Russia’s] sovereignty and territorial integrity…by decreasing its population.”

Most perniciously, in denying Movement for Marriage Equality’s registration, the government construed LGBT rights activities as “gay propaganda,” and said the organization’s work amounted to “extremist activities.”

Formally called the law “aimed at protecting children from information promoting the denial of traditional family values,” the “gay propaganda” law – a classic example of political homophobia - bans the “promotion of nontraditional sexual relations to minors,” a reference universally understood to mean a ban on providing children with access to information about LGBT people’s lives. The ban includes, but is not limited to, information provided via the press, television, radio, and the Internet.

As it was debated and passed in 2013, the law contributed to an intensification of stigma, harassment, and violence against LGBT people in Russia. The law has been used to shut down online information and mental health referral services for children, and to discourage support groups and mental health professionals from addressing LGBT issues with children. It has further entrenched antipathy toward LGBT people

The law has rightly been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the Council of Europe.

The European court’s new judgement, which found Russia responsible for discrimination and violation of freedom of association, is a cautionary reminder to the Russian government that the baseless and vitriolic gay propaganda law should be repealed.

China: Muslim-Majority States Whitewash Abuses

Wednesday, July 17, 2019


Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Yousef bin Ahmed al-Othaimeen (C), and Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Assaf (R) talk before a photo during a meeting of Islamic and Arab foreign ministers in Jeddah on May 30, 2019.

© 2019 BANDAR ALDANDANI/AFP/Getty Images (New York) – More than a dozen member countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) signed a statement supporting China’s policies in Xinjiang that ignored widespread repression of the region’s Muslims, Human Rights Watch said today. The Chinese government-promoted letter was in response to a joint statement by 22 countries at the United Nations Human Rights Council last week expressing concern at massive rights violations in Xinjiang and urging unfettered access by international monitors.

The Chinese government has subjected 13 million ethnic Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang to mass arbitrary detention, forced political indoctrination, restrictions on movement, and religious oppression. Credible estimates indicate that over one million people are being held in “political education” camps. Chinese authorities have also placed Muslims in Xinjiang under pervasive surveillance and mobilized over a million officials to monitor Muslims, including through various intrusive programs.

“The Chinese government garnered the support of a dozen Muslim-majority countries to help whitewash its abysmal human rights record in Xinjiang,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “Instead of joining with the many governments denouncing abuses against Xinjiang’s Muslims, these countries have joined Beijing’s repugnant counter narrative.”

Despite the systematic abuses against Muslims in Xinjiang, the countries that joined China’s statement applauded China’s “counter-terrorism and de-radicalization measures in Xinjiang” that have led to a “stronger sense of happiness, fulfillment, and security.” The Muslim-majority countries that signed the letter include: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and the United Arab Emirates.

China’s campaign of repression in Xinjiang has been a key test of whether OIC members will press an increasingly powerful China to end its systemic abuses against Muslims. The 57-country body has largely remained silent and at times applauded China’s efforts in recent months. When the OIC foreign ministers met in Abu Dhabi in March, they ignored the plight of Xinjiang’s Muslims, and instead praised China’s efforts “in providing care to its Muslim citizens” and “look[ed] forward to further cooperation” with China.

OIC delegates also took part in one of the Chinese government’s highly controlled, state-managed diplomatic visits to Xinjiang without any criticism of the government’s rights violations. By contrast and in line with its mandate to “safeguard the rights, dignity, and religious and cultural identity” of Muslim minorities, the OIC has been vocal in condemning abuses against and demanding accountability for Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

Several OIC members including Afghanistan, Albania, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, Tunisia, and Turkey did not sign the China-backed letter. However, no Muslim-majority country has joined the unprecedented global call at the UN Human Rights Council to investigate abuses. OIC countries should urgently sign this joint statement before the July 26 deadline.

“China’s repressive Xinjiang campaign has put the OIC’s credibility on the line,” Richardson said. “If the OIC wants to be the global voice for the rights of oppressed Muslims everywhere, its members need to stop looking the other way and denounce China’s abusive policies in Xinjiang.”

Standing with Victims on International Justice Day

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Abdul Kareem, a Rohingya Muslim, carries his mother, Alima Khatoon, to a refugee camp after crossing from Burma into Bangladesh on Sept. 16, 2017.

© 2017 Dar Yasin/AP

Twenty-one years ago today, 120 countries adopted the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), creating a permanent international court to hold perpetrators of the world’s gravest crimes to account. The anniversary is a moment to reflect on the successes and challenges of bringing justice to victims over the past year.

With armed conflicts raging across the globe and devastating civilian populations, demand for accountability is growing. In Liberia, citizens and civil society groups are calling on President George Weah to support the creation of a war crimes court to provide justice for atrocities committed during the country’s two civil wars.

In the Central African Republic, the Special Criminal Court has finally opened investigations into abuses committed during the years-long conflict there. Several prosecutors in Europe are investigating and bringing to trial atrocity crimes cases committed in countries such as Syria and Iraq, where the ICC has no jurisdiction. Some governments are also attempting to fill this gap by creating teams of independent investigators to examine crimes in Syria and Myanmar.

At the ICC, two suspects of grave crimes in the Central African Republic, Patrice Edouard Ngaissona and Alfred Yékatom, were arrested and transferred to the court. Earlier this month, the ICC prosecutor filed a request to open an investigation into certain crimes against ethnic Rohingya arising from government atrocities in Myanmar. Last week, ICC judges convicted Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and began hearings for the confirmation of charges in the case against Al Hassan for crimes in northern Mali.

But there have also been serious setbacks for victims awaiting justice from the court. In January, ICC judges dismissed the case against former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo and the written reasons for the oral decision were only filed on July 16. In April, judges rejected the prosecutor’s request to open an investigation in Afghanistan on a problematic legal basis. In the face of evident shortcomings, the court needs to step up its performance.

The ICC is also facing unprecedented threats from the United States. In March, the Trump administration threatened visa bans on ICC staff if the court began investigating US nationals for alleged crimes in Afghanistan, and then proceeded to revoke the prosecutor’s visa in April. 

While challenges to securing accountability around the world persist, 21 years after the completion of the Rome Statute, the victims’ need for justice and an effective court are greater than ever.

Kazakhstan: Children in Institutions Isolated, Abused

Wednesday, July 17, 2019


Sixteen beds fill a room with barred windows in a closed institution for children with disabilities.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

(Berlin) – Children with disabilities in state institutions in Kazakhstan are at risk of physical violence, forced sedation, and neglect, Human Rights Watch said today.

Kazakhstan should make it a priority to move children with disabilities out of closed residential institutions and provide support for children with disabilities to live with their families, or in other family settings in the community. All forms of violence in closed institutions and the use of restraints as a form of punishment, control, or retaliation, or as a measure of convenience for staff, should be prohibited.

“Hundreds of children and young adults with disabilities in Kazakhstan are locked away in closed children’s institutions, where they can face neglect and violence, and are isolated from families and society,” said Mihra Rittmann, senior Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Kazakhstan should call a halt to these abusive practices and urgently develop a way for children with disabilities and their families to get the services they need to protect their right to a family life.”

Between October 2017 and April 2019, Human Rights Watch interviewed 27 children and young adults with disabilities who had lived in closed children’s institutions, as well as parents of children with disabilities, institution staff, and disability rights experts and activists. Human Rights Watch also visited three institutions for children with disabilities.

Children and young adults who grew up in closed institutions for children with disabilities reported that staff beat them, forcibly administered sedatives to punish or control them, and forced them to take care of younger children.

According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, Kazakhstan has 19 state institutions for children with mental health conditions and developmental disabilities. More than 2,000 children live in these institutions, though many have at least one living parent.

Staff confirmed that they use psychotropic drugs to sedate children and have sent children to psychiatric hospitals for behavior such as screaming, shouting, or refusing to follow staff directions. Such drugs are usually medically prescribed to treat schizophrenia, sleep disorders, and strong pain. The sedatives put children to sleep, in some cases for up to 24 hours.

Several young adults who grew up in institutions said that staff beat them with objects such as crutches and mops, or slammed them or other children against the wall. Staff would also force children to work, for example to mop floors, or to feed, bathe, and change the diapers of younger children. In one institution, Human Rights Watch saw a young girl in physical restraints, with her arms fixed around her torso, enclosed in a pink cloth with sleeves tied behind her back, like a strait jacket.

Upon turning 18, many young adults with disabilities are automatically transferred to adult institutions and remain there. In part, this is due due to a lack of services to support young adults with disabilities to live independently.

They may face more violence in the adult institutions. One man described being repeatedly stripped naked and placed in a very cold cage-like isolation room as punishment.

Children with disabilities living in state children’s institutions receive little or no education. “We don’t have a school [education] program, but a correctional program,” one institution director said. “Children here are weak and difficult.”

In all the children’s institutions Human Rights Watch visited, children face neglect. Up to 16 children are kept in rooms together, with only a few caregivers. Some children, typically those who cannot walk or talk, are confined almost continuously to cribs or beds.

After her September 2017 visit to Kazakhstan, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas, noted that, “Living independently in the community is one of the major challenges for persons with disabilities in Kazakhstan,” and that she had received “worrisome allegations of violence, abuse and degrading treatment against persons placed in those institutions, especially girls and women with disabilities.”

An 18-year-old man who grew up in institutions said, “It’s not a life. They fed us, dressed us. I want to build my own life. I want a life! I want to live on my own, make [my own] food, go to work.”

In correspondence with Human Rights Watch, the Labor and Social Protection Ministry acknowledged that “large dormitory-like institutions lead to overcrowding… reduce the quality of services and the social adaptation of people in society, [and] lead to the loss of family ties.” The Labor and Social Protection Ministry also said that 727 children with disabilities had been returned to their families in 2018, facilitated by the development of day care centers. The ministry said that it plans to develop smaller homes, for 10 to 50 people.

However, while such homes may be smaller in scale, they would only perpetuate institutionalization in so far as residents would not have autonomy over their daily lives. Instead, the Kazakh government should invest in the development of community-based services to support independent living for people with disabilities. If small-group living arrangements are developed, they should be community-based, voluntary, ensure autonomy and individual decision-making, with support as necessary, and include programs to teach skills for living independently.

Kazakh law states that “every child has the right to live and be raised in their family, the right to know their parents, the right to their care, and the right to live with them, except when it is contrary to their interests.” As a party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Kazakhstan should ensure that all children with disabilities can grow up in a family and be included in the community, regardless of their disability or multiple disabilities. The government is also obligated to protect children from abuse and ill-treatment and should prohibit using sedatives and physical restraints to control or punish people with disabilities.

Children should only be placed in residential institutions under the supervision of an independent judicial body, in cases of emergency, or to prevent the separation of siblings, and for a limited duration. Family reunification or placement in family-based alternative care should be the ultimate plan for the child, Human Rights Watch said.

The Kazakh government should adopt a time-bound plan to phase out the use of residential institutions for children with disabilities and prioritize accessible community-based services and support to families. The government should end abuses in closed children’s institutions and ensure rigorous monitoring of institutions pending their closure.

“All children, including those with disabilities, should be at home, with their families,” Rittmann said. “The Kazakh government should make sure that children with disabilities and their families have the support they need to live in the community, just like everyone else.”

For more information about conditions in closed institutions for children with disabilities in Kazakhstan, please see below.

Kazakhstan’s Labor and Social Protection Ministry helped facilitate access to three closed children’s institutions, in Almaty, Karaganda, and Shymkent, which Human Rights Watch visited in November and December 2018. The ministry also responded in July to a letter about conditions in such institutions. Interviews were voluntary and held in private. Human Rights Watch used pseudonyms for all the children and young adults interviewed to protect their privacy and confidentiality. Expand

Children confined to a "lying down" room in a closed children's institution. 

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

Institutionalization of Children with Disabilities

Children with disabilities in state care in Kazakhstan live in institutions known as Special Social Services Centers for Children. There are currently 19 special children’s centers, with a total of over 2,000 children. Most children in these centers have intellectual, psychosocial – that is, mental health – or developmental disabilities. They include children with Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, and epilepsy. Children in Kazakhstan with other types of disabilities, such as physical or sensory disabilities, may live in residential special schools, or at home with their families, or in two specialized residential institutions for children with physical disabilities.

The practice of institutionalization in Kazakhstan carries over from its Soviet past, where, according to UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, institutions were “considered as the best public care solution” and the prevailing view was that “all those who, for different reasons, could not fit within the rules of society should be isolated.”

At the time of Human Rights Watch’s visits to special children’s centers in 2018, there were 131 children in the Almaty special children’s center; 176 children at the Shymkent special children’s center; and 175 children in Karaganda special children’s center, ages 3 to 18. The Karaganda center also has 68 young adults ages 18 and older.

While many institutionalized children have at least one living parent, parents are required by law to relinquish their parental rights to admit their children in state residential institutions. The institution director becomes the child’s legal guardian.

Treatment and Conditions

Sedatives, Forced Psychiatric Hospitalization for Control and Punishment

Several of the current or former special children’s center residents interviewed said that staff had given them sedatives, or they had seen staff give other children sedatives to control them or punish them for their behavior. Some children said that staff forced them to go to local psychiatric hospitals for behavior such as not following staff directions, which they took to be punishment. Some were forced to remain there for weeks, a month, or more.

Institution staff, as well as one parent whose child currently lives at an institution, corroborated these practices. One staff member said that a child was hospitalized after behavior such as pulling another caregiver’s hair.

Kazakh law gives psychiatrists the authority to order forced hospitalization, including for children, for monitoring or treatment. But it is not clear what, if any, basis in law exists for holding children in psychiatric hospitals for these extended periods.

The use of medications for staff convenience, to control behavior, or as punishment, is known as chemical restraint and is never acceptable. The UN special rapporteur on torture has stated that “any restraint on persons with disabilities for even a short period of time may constitute torture and ill-treatment.” Medications should only be used for therapeutic purposes and consistent with the right to the highest attainable standard of health.

Bakhyt, a 24-year-old woman who grew up in a special children’s center, said that institution staff punish children by “giving shots to make [us] sleep.” She also said that institution staff had punished her for running around in the bedroom by giving her an injection, and had sent her to the psychiatric hospital for two months. Bakhyt said that institution staff had told the attending psychiatrist that she had tried to jump out of the window, though she said she hadn’t. “They shouldn’t lie like that,” she said. “God is watching.”

Asel, 22, who grew up in the same institution, also said that staff punished children by giving them sedatives. “When they give you a shot,” she said, “then you sleep for one whole day.” Several other young people who had lived in other institutions said they too slept for long periods after staff gave them injections or pills.

Galym, now 23, was also institutionalized as a child. He said that in the special children’s center where he lived, “if you run off to go to the shop, they send you to the psychiatric hospital.” He said he was given shots twice a day which made him “slow.” He said both he and some of his caregivers asked the medical workers to stop the medication, but they refused.

Staff at all three children’s institutions said that when children become overexcited or uncontrollable, for example when they do not follow directions, the staff first summon the institution’s psychologist to talk to the child, to try and calm them. But they admitted that when that approach was not effective, they could call the doctor to give children sedatives and in more serious cases, send them to psychiatric hospitals.

One institution director said that if children “are uncontrollable, we call an ambulance, and they take the child to the psychiatric health center [hospital].” A caregiver who works with 15- to 18-year-old boys at the same institution said that staff sometimes threaten to call the psychiatric hospital ambulance to compel the boys to follow instructions. She said that staff summoned the psychiatric hospital ambulance after a boy in her group pulled the hair of one of the caregivers. “He spent a month at [the psychiatric hospital],” she said.

A medical worker at another special children’s center said that in 2017, staff called a psychiatric hospital ambulance when a 17-year-old boy tried repeatedly to run away. The boy was sent to the psychiatric hospital for over 40 days, the medical worker said.

She said that if the psychiatrist decides a child needs medication, for example, because he hits himself, they prescribe a sedative for up to two or three months, then there is a break. “We only give shots at the moment [the child] acts up,” she said.

Use of Sedatives, Isolation Cells to Punish Adults

Children who were transferred to adult institutions upon turning 18 said they faced similar abuse there.

Ivan, a 24-year-old who grew up in state care, said his time in the adult institution “was horrible”:

They [the staff] had a habit of beating us if we didn’t want to help or if we didn’t listen to them. They would also give us shots. Shots and shots of aminazine, to make us sleep. They break it open, jab it in you and that’s it. Or, they’d take a tablet, crush it up in their hand and make me drink it.

Svetlana, also 24, lived in the same adult institution. She said that institution staff “would give shots to anyone who wouldn’t listen. The shots would make people sleep a lot… People would sleep for a long time, feel very weak. You want to drink a lot, [but] your appetite falls away.”

Both also said they were put in isolation as punishment. Ivan said that one night orderlies beat him and insulted him, then they put him in an isolation room overnight:

“It was so cold. They opened the window. It was so cold. They would give me the shot and then close me in the cage. It was so cold. They took all of our clothes off. We were totally without anything… No bed, nothing, just a bare floor. I just had to lie on the floor. There was nothing. It was so cold.”

Aigerim, 30, said that in state institutions where she lived as an adult, “[If] you behave poorly, they give you shots or pills, or put you behind bars. When they punish you, they lock you up. They can keep you there until the morning. There is a metal bed, mattress. [When you’re locked up] they don’t give you food.”

Physical Restraints

Like chemical restraints, the use of physical restraints such as tying or strait jackets to control children’s behavior is unacceptable, and may amount to torture and ill-treatment, even if used only for a short time.


A young girl whose arms were tied and affixed behind her back in a closed children's institution.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch Human Rights Watch observed that staff in one institution had bound the arms of a girl who was about 10 years old, wrapping them around her torso and fixing them down using a piece of clothing tied behind her back, similar to a strait jacket. A staff member attending to the girl said that the management of the institution does not allow her to keep the girl tied up for more than half an hour at a time.

Another staff member in the same institution said that they sometimes use physical restraints on children if they “really act up.” In those cases, she said, they restrain the child for 20 or 30 minutes, “but we don’t tie young ones, only children 10 and above.”

In March 2018, a 7-year-old boy who lived in a children’s institution in Talgar, a town in southern Kazakhstan, died of asphyxiation after his caregiver reportedly tied him to his bed because he would not sleep and was disturbing other children in the same room. The caregiver was convicted of murder and sentenced to 13 years in prison, but no other institution staff appear to have been held accountable for the child’s death.

Physical Violence

Young adults interviewed said that some staff had beaten them in the children’s institutions where they grew up.

Mikhail, 23, said that some staff members made him mop floors at night and also beat him and his friend:

There was one caregiver who made us clean the floors and the toilet. She would swear at us. She heard us complaining [about something] and she beat us with a crutch. I had a welt [after that].

Mikhail described other violence he experienced in the children’s institution:

They beat my head against a wall. I got a concussion. Three caregivers would beat me, they drank [alcohol] and beat everyone. They didn’t feed us and swore at us. If someone [defecated] in his pants, they would beat him with a stick.

When asked if he reported the abuse to anyone, Mikhail said, “I didn’t complain because that would just make it worse.” He also did not know to whom he could complain. “You can’t just go see the director,” he said.

Aigerim, now 30, described the violence she experienced in the children’s institution where she grew up: “[Staff] beat us up in there. They beat us with a mop. You’re not supposed to beat children with a mop!” She understood that staff beat her as punishment, if “for instance, [we] didn’t listen to them.” Aigerim said that, “It felt like they didn’t consider [us] people, but dogs or animals.”

Lack of Personalized Attention, Nurturing

In each of the three special children’s centers, rooms for children were organized by age, type of disability, or both, as well as by gender. Most rooms had between eight and 16 children, and about three staff members attending to them.

Under such circumstances, even the most dedicated staff face challenges providing the individualized attention and care that each child needs. This is especially true with respect to young children or children with high support needs, where children are given little or no opportunity or support for physical, emotional, or intellectual growth.

Studies have shown that a child’s healthy development depends on their ability to form emotional attachments to a caregiver. In his reporting on children deprived of their liberty, the UN special rapporteur on torture has noted that children “require emotional companionship and attention to flourish.” Human Rights Watch found that due to the grouping of large numbers of children, children’s special centers do not provide sufficient individualized care and nurturing.

Older Children Forced to Care for Younger Children

Current and former residents in multiple children’s institutions said that they were forced to assist caregivers, carrying out such tasks as feeding, changing diapers, bathing, and dressing younger children.

When Zhanara lived in a closed children’s institution, she “had to help take care of other kids. It was hard. It was sad to see these children. One girl had a tube coming out of her stomach. It was hard.”

Nurbek, now 21, said: “In [the institution] I had to help with the children who don’t speak, who are lying down. I would help feed them, change their diapers. There were also kids in wheelchairs. Sometimes I had to carry them. I got mad because I was tired of doing this.”

Another former resident, Mikhail, 23, said: “[I was forced to] bathe and brush the teeth of other children. The staff would sit there and give us orders. Other kids also performed work. Even Serezha [not his real name] in a wheelchair was forced to work, to mop the floor.”

Three other young people described similar work. Nurgul, who lives in a special children’s center, said: “I always help out and support them. I dress [the young ones], put on their shoes, and wash them.”

Galym said that he “helped the caregivers to take care of the lying-down children. I mopped the floor, changed diapers.” For his assistance, Galym said that the caregivers sometimes gave him money or home-cooked food.

Denial of Education

Children and young adults who had lived in special children’s centers said that they received little or no education. Senior staff at the institutions Human Rights Watch visited confirmed that the vast majority of children living there did not go to school. They said some children attended “correctional” classes in the institutions. In correspondence with Human Rights Watch about education for children in closed children’s institutions, the Labor and Social Protection Ministry said that “children with psychiatric-neurological pathologies… have difficulty learning in special classes in special educational institutions” and are thus under the care of the social services system.

Lack of Play, Recreation

The children in the institutions visited lacked access to sufficient play and recreation, particularly children confined to their beds. All children in institutions follow a strict daily schedule, with defined meal and nap times, and spend the majority of their day indoors. Irina, 23, said that in the children’s institution where she had lived, “everywhere there were only bars. We were always within four walls. We never went anywhere on our own.”

Bakhyt, a 24-year-old who grew up in an institution, said, “They don’t let us walk around. I like to do things myself, but it’s not so easy. [If they’d let me] I would go to the movies. It’s interesting.”

Institution directors said that some of the center’s children leave the institutions for day outings, or particular events such as to attend a concert. It was not clear how frequently children participate in these activities, as the institutions have buses that can accommodate only 20 or 30 children, whereas more than 100 children lived in each of the institutions at the time.

Children Transferred to Adult Institutions Without Consent

By law, special children’s centers are intended for children ages 3 to 18. Staff at the Karaganda center said that 68 adults continued to live there because there was no room for them in the nearby adult institution. Young adults up to age 24 were living in the same rooms as young children.

Many of the young adults said that institution staff had arranged for their transfer to adult state residential institutions without their consent when or after they turned 18. Aigul Shakibaeva, a human rights activist and disabilities rights expert who has carried out research on the treatment of children and young adults with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, said that the vast majority of children transferred to adult institutions are deprived of their legal capacity, or the right to make decisions for themselves, without their knowledge.

A childhood spent in an institution can have serious negative consequences for the person institutionalized. Thinking back to her time in a children’s institution, Aina, now in her 30s, said, “I wish they wouldn’t give shots or pills [in the institution]. I wish everything was good and fair. Sometimes it’s hard for me [still]. I sit at home and cry.”


The Kazakh government should:

  • Establish a time-bound plan to end the use of closed residential institutions for children with disabilities. Children should only be placed in any residential institution under the supervision of an independent judicial body, in emergency cases or to prevent the separation of siblings, and for a limited duration. Planned family reunification or placement in family-based alternative care should be the ultimate outcome for the child;
  • Systematically monitor institutions, prevent and remedy human rights abuses, including violence, the use of sedatives and physical restraints for punishment, control, or for staff convenience; and other abuses;
  • Develop quality, accessible community-based services for people with disabilities and families of children with disabilities;
  • Examine ways to reallocate government funds and programming from institutions to increase support for people with disabilities to live independently in their communities and for families to raise children with disabilities at home;
  • Pending phasing out these institutions, ensure that children with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities living in state institutions have regular access to their families, ideally through home visits and access to inclusive education, adequate health care, rehabilitation, and play.

Congress Should Condemn Trump’s Racist Comments

Tuesday, July 16, 2019


It is no coincidence that the lawmakers President Donald Trump attacked over the weekend with his racist tweets had recently been vocal critics of the inhumane conditions asylum seekers face in US custody. These conditions, which Human Rights Watch has documented extensively, violate federal statutes and international human rights law that protect asylum seekers and children.

US Representative Tom Malinowski has drafted a House resolution rebuking the president’s racist attacks on sitting members of Congress. It states that the House of Representatives “strongly condemns President Trump’s racist comments that have legitimized fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.”

The four congresswomen targeted – Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib – are all US citizens and three of the four are US born. By suggesting “they go back to where they come from,” the president questioned their claim to US citizenship – their belonging.

Instead of issuing an apology, Trump denied his actions were racist and continued his onslaught.

Trump’s most recent outburst cannot be separated from his long history of racist actions and rhetorical attacks on people of color and women, nor from his administration’s abusive immigration policies.

Trump was one of the main proponents of the “birtherism” conspiracy that alleged that former President Barack Obama was not a US citizen and more recently said that Black National Football League players who kneel to protest police violence during the anthem should not be in the country. As president, he has  obtained a ban on people from certain Muslim-majority countries from entering the US, separated migrant families at the border, detained babies and children, and returned asylum seekers to dangerous conditions in Mexico.

The racism that Trump exhibited in his tweets to the lawmakers animates his abusive immigration policies. Language matters, and the US government can only address these abuses if it pushes back against the racism at their heart. Congress should overwhelmingly approve the resolution.